By Clint Buehler
WABASCA, AB – Gordon Auger is in a battle to stay on as chief of the Bigstone Cree First Nation based here. It isn’t the first time. Auger was Bigstone chief from 1992 to 2004, and while his leadership led to impressive progress on many fronts, some members criticized his aggressive take-no-prisoners style. The death of his daughter and two of her children in a tragic vehicle collision affected Auger and his wife deeply, and initially he did not seek re-election, but he changed his mind, losing a close race against Francis Gladue. He ran for the position again in January 2008 and that very close contest was unsuccessfully challenged. Auger now faces allegations that he is in conflict of interest because a company he owns has contracts with a Bigstone-owned company, allegations he denies. The vote was 4 to 4; the tie was broken by the chairman who voted for Auger’s removal as chief.
Fever, the community newspaper, reported that different sources said at various times that Auger was going to be removed by the band council, that he was under RCMP investigation and charges would soon come, that the RCMP would not open any investigation into allegations of conflict of interest unless the band first had an audit done, and that Auger was willing to leave office if council gave him a big severance payment. Fever also reported some sources mentioned threats to call a band membership meeting and have all of the band council removed and critics of the chief had said during summer that documents proving financial irregularities involving the band would be delivered to the paper. Those documents never arrived.
Social networking came into play in September with hints at Auger’s removal as chief on Facebook posts and in emails, culminating with the official Bigstone Cree Nation Community Journal website announcing that Auger had been removed as chief effective September 13th. Despite this, Auger attended a public rally by Treaty 6, 7, and 8 bands at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on September 26th where he spoke on behalf of Bigstone as council members who apparently ousted him days earlier sat and listened.
Bigstone band councillor John Gullion told Fever, “We went public with [announcing the chief’s removal] because he would not take the hint that he is not chief anymore.” He said Auger did not want to step down as chief, refused to take a severance package, and plans to take it to court. Fever reports Auger contacted the media and was the first to provide details about the allegations of conflict of interest and the first to produce documentation involved in the controversy. Auger challenged the decision to remove him in a “without prejudice memorandum” published in Fever: “I hereby acknowledge receipt of notice of your decision to remove me from my elected position as Chief of Bigstone Cree Nation. This is to advise you that I am not in the position to honour your decision and directive to me to vacate my position at this time. I will therefore remain in my office until such time I am legally removed or through proper election process,” he stated. “You have placed your faith on allegations and hearsay to pass judgment against me on which you based your decision. Until such time these allegations can be proven, my obligation is to the people that elected me as chief is to remain as Chief of the Nation. I also have doubts that council alone has the power to make such decisions without acquiring proper legal authority to do so. I believe that to step down now is to admit guilt, and I assure you I am not willing to jeopardize my integrity and innocence by doing so. I feel that your accusations have no merit and that I have been falsely accused.” He added, “I would also like to advise you that I see no reason to pursue this matter through legal recourse as there has been no criminal action or crime charged against me. And so I shall remain as the head of council and Chief of the Bigstone Cree Nation.”